While attending the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival I was keen to see All Is By My Sidewhich chronicled an American backup guitarist travelling to the UK where he is transformed into an international rock star. Unfortunately, the Jimi Hendrix biopic was undermined by flat performances and an inability to get music rights. The situation has been rectified by the arrival of the documentary Jimi Hendrix:Hear My Train A Comin’ which was able to gain the cooperation of the Hendrix estate.
If you are expecting an exploration of the dark side of the creative talent who died tragically from a drug overdose at the age of 27, then the cinematic experience assembled by filmmaker Bob Smeaton (The Beatles Anthology) will be a disappointment. The substance abuse and womanising is mentioned but the focus is squarely on celebrating the man and his obsessive love for music. With the exception of girlfriend Kathy Etchingham, pivotal figures are interviewed such as Experience band members Noel Redding, Mitch Mitchell, and Billy Cox as well as the father of the musician James ‘Al’ Hendrix, Linda Keith who “discovered” him, manager Chas Chandler, and long-time sound engineer Eddie Krammer. The strong father/son bond is great to see; however, the most illumination insights come from Krammer who enthusiastically sits behind a sound board to illustrate the creative genius of his deceased friend and collaborator.
Home movies, concert footage and TV interviews allow the subject of the documentary to make an appearance. What is dramatically striking is the wild man on stage who would light his guitar on fire or pluck his strings with his teeth was a quiet and thoughtful person embarrassed by the fame he had achieved. Nice additions are personal letters written by Jimi Hendrix to his father as well as the awestruck and bewildered reactions of female audience members. In the end the financial burden of building Electric Lady Studios combined with the weight of fame began to take its toil. In his quest to sleep Hendrix made a fatal mistake which is echoed by death of actor Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight). For an artist who took a guitar with him wherever he went it is a fitting tribute that his electrifying chords continue to resonate long after the final curtain call 43 years ago.
American Masters: JimiHendrix: Hear My Train A Comin’ premieres nationally Tuesday, November 5, 2013 @ 9 p.m. ET on PBS. The same day, Experience Hendrix LLC and Legacy Recordings will release the expanded home video edition of the American Masters documentary, with never-before-released special performance features, on DVD and Blu-ray.
Photo Credit: Cal Bernstein / MRPI / Authentic Hendrix, LLC
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.